Sunday, April 11, 2021


A version of this review previously appeared in Shelf Awareness and is republished here with permission.

If a bird can be said to have inappropriately flown beneath the radar of public fascination, that is the caracara. Jonathan Meiburg's fabulously epic account, A Most Remarkable Creature, sets the record straight. Meiburg is frontman for the band Shearwater (named after a long-distance marine bird); in 1997, he received the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, which awards a year's travel to remote communities, sparking his enchantment with islands, birds and natural history.  

In the falcon family, caracaras are unlike other birds of prey, who focus on hunting. Caracaras, innately curious and "disarmingly conscious," seek out interaction regardless of food. Calling a caracara a bird of prey, says Meiburg, "feels like calling the painters of the Italian Renaissance a group of unusually gifted apes." Caracaras fascinated Darwin, who wrote more about them than any other bird.

Caracaras will "pluck the cap from your head, tug at the zippers of your backpack, and meet your eye with a forthright, impish gaze." This "earnest, playful quality" is what spurred Meiburg's research, yet A Most Remarkable Creature is much more than a scientific profile. It is a grand intellectual adventure involving dinosaurs, DNA, naturalists, exploration and survival. Meiburg is a gifted storyteller, and one can't help but fall under the same spell he did, daydreaming about "keeping a striated caracara in my apartment. It would be the world's most exasperating roommate, but watching it build a nest of shredded T-shirts, LP jackets, and guitar strings in my bookshelf might be worth it."

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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